UMass swept by Merrimack over weekend

By Pete Vasquez

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

By Pete Vasquez
Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team was swept by Merrimack in a home-and-home series this past weekend, putting UMass’ playoff push in jeopardy.

After surrendering third-period leads of 1-0 and 3-2, the Minutemen (6-18-5, 5-13-5 Hockey East) lost their second overtime game in as many weekends, falling to the Warriors, 4-3, on Friday at the Mullins Center. One night later, No. 6 Merrimack  (21-5-4, 15-5-3 HEA) completed the sweep on its home ice, topping UMass, 2-1.

The two losses, coupled with Vermont’s tie with New Hampshire, pitted both UMass and the Catamounts in seventh place in Hockey East standings with 15 points. Providence trails a playoff spot by only three points.

UMass still has to play No. 1 Boston College next weekend as Providence faces UMass Lowell, the worst team in the conference, which is why the Minutemen were hoping to find some points this weekend.

Instead, the Warriors outshot the Minutemen 41-16 on Saturday night and led 2-0 after two periods. A total of 21 shots allowed in the first period were the most UMass has allowed in any period all season.

Senior captain Paul Dainton made 31 and 39 saves on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. The goalkeeper is now 44 shy of Brian Regan’s all-time saves school record.

T.J. Syner scored his eighth goal of the season off of a power play in the third period as the Minutemen attempted to make a comeback. After Dainton was pulled in the closing minutes, Michael Pereira had the final opportunity for UMass with less than a minute remaining when the puck rolled to him in the slot. The puck, however, hopped over his stick and was then cleared away.

“[Dainton] gave us a chance to hang in there long enough to make it a game,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said after the loss. “We kept telling them, going into that third period, if we can get a little bit more proactive and aggressive, we get that next goal we make things very interesting. But interesting isn’t the objective.”

It was the second-straight night with an eventful third period. On Friday, UMass held a 1-0 lead well into the final frame. However, six total goals later, the Warriors skated off the ice snatching the victory.

Merrimack finally scored eight minutes into the third and followed with another score four and a half minutes later to take a 2-1 lead on two power play goals. But freshman Adam Phillips brought UMass back with his third multi-goal game of the season and the Minutemen reclaimed a 3-2 lead in the 17th minute.

With 1:22 remaining in the game, Joe Cucci of Merrimack knocked the puck in after Colin Shea, who lost his stick during the sequence, frantically tried to scoop the puck away with his hands.

Merrimack’s third goal led UMass to its third-straight overtime affair. But the overtime only lasted 25 seconds.

After an ill-advised backwards pass by a UMass skater to no one in particular, Merrimack began a 2-on-2 push along the left side. Dainton saved the first shot but the puck went directly to an awaiting Warriors skater on the rebound.

“We totally misplayed the 2-on-2,” Cahoon said. “Our net front defense absolutely destroyed us. That’s how they tied the game up with a minute and eight [seconds left]. Just playing space and not going to people. I know we teach everyone of those things and we practice day in and day out and we have to be able to execute.”

Cahoon was brief to the media after the game, explaining how a couple of fundamental mistakes led to scoring opportunities for Merrimack.

“Pucks end up in the back of the net, we lose games,” Cahoon said. “We’re not the victims, we beat ourselves, and it’s a shame. It’s a shame because [our players] came ready to play, almost did something good, but they didn’t get it done.”

Pete Vasquez can be reached at [email protected]